Editorial: Harnessing solar power

·3 min read

The calamities left by Typhoon Odette forced many Cebuanos to reflect on nature, the destructiveness of the forces that, with human ingenuity and foresight, can also be tapped for relief and reconstruction.

Power and water shot to prominence in many an individual’s daily priorities after the impact of widespread destruction to structures, including those for power and telecommunications, as well as to the environment continue to impinge on existence, weeks after Dec. 16, 2021, when Odette struck in ways few, despite the warnings, anticipated.

The delay in the restoration of power translates in many ways, from the domestic aggravations of food spoilage and unanticipated expenses and extra time for buying and storing water to wider social implications, such as closure of businesses, loss of jobs, and increase of lawlessness.

Seeing how government and power providers struggled to restore eletrification, some families and companies activated or purchased power generator sets (gensets). This solution is not only expensive and beyond the reach of many families. In the days following Odette, genset supplies at local retailers were exhausted, the scarcity further driving up the prices of this commodity.

A household’s operation of a genset also raises sensitivity issues. Norma said neighbors complain they are prevented from resting at night by the racket generated by her genset. Lourdes, wary of setting off similar complaints, uses her genset to operate the lights only for supper. An overseas worker on furlough, Manuel distributes power to nearby houses to placate possible resentment but also spends more to have a more powerful genset and the network for local distribution.

Presenting a more affordable, sustainable, and appropriate technology aiding stakeholders during the blackouts/brownouts is solar power.

“The amount of sunlight that strikes the earth’s surface in an hour and a half is enough to handle the entire world’s energy consumption for a full year,” notes the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office in its website energy.gov.

Tapping the wealth of possibilities of this renewable energy source was behind the community organizing and technology transfer efforts of the Philippine-German Cebu Upland Project (CUP) when, in the 1980s, it mobilized upland communities in Alcoy, Boljoon, and Oslob to volunteer their labor for the installation and maintenance of a photovoltaic pump to generate and distribute water for households that previously relied on storing rainwater and gathering banana sap for human and livestock consumption. Due to the elevated terrain, these communities ruled out deep well construction or service from water utilities serving households only in the Poblacion and nearby areas.

Intense efforts were focused in the CUP’s communication campaign to inform, persuade, and mobilize local residents about solar technology. In contemporary times, however, solar power has become ubiquitous, its essential nature emphasized in the power crisis arising after Typhoon Odette.

The conversion of solar energy into power involves technology that is not just clean using a renewable source but is also scalable, meeting every need: personal, household, industrial, and communal. Innovations put within an online buyer’s reach a solar-powered desk fan that can also light at least two bulbs or charge a smart phone, as well as provide overnight outdoor illumination protecting not just one home but also the street and neighboring homes without the costs and noise involved with genset operation.

Solar street lighting has become attractive for homeowners’ associations seeking viable and sustainable alternatives to conventional street lights that are vulnerable to typhoons and involve bureacratic delays to repair or replace.

While the post-Odette blackouts/brownouts highlight the benefits and opportunities of solar power, stakeholders must also deal with unanticipated drawbacks. Profiteers exploit public demand through overpricing and poor quality production.

After Odette, a P700-solar desk fan was marketed online for at least P2,000. Online bestsellers during the yearend were solar Christmas lights and other decors. The lack of the government seal that a so-called solar-powered commodity has met quality and safety standards should alert stakeholders to the necessity of consumer vigilance and fair trade regulation and enforcement.

To optimize solar power for public good, public stakeholdership must be as constant as the sun.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting